ICC finds ‘reasonable basis’ to pursue formal probe on Duterte’s drug war in 2021

Dec. 16, 2020

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – The International Criminal Court (ICC) Chief Prosecutor said on Monday there is “reasonable basis” that crimes against humanity were committed under the Duterte administration’s war on drugs campaign and may decide to investigate this by first half of 2021.

Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda released her annual report on Tuesday, saying crimes included murder, torture, infliction of serious physical injury and mental harm that happened between July 1, 2016 and March 16, 2019.

The ICC Prosecutor opened a preliminary investigation on the Philippines in 2018 after allegations of human rights violations on the government’s war on drugs alarmed international bodies.

Bensouda said her office may reach a decision in the first half of 2021 to open a formal investigation, as the preliminary examination was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

‘Limited investigations and prosecutions’

In the report, Bensouda noted that public information showed that “limited number of investigations and prosecutions have been initiated (and, in some cases, completed) at the national level in respect of direct perpetrators of certain criminal conduct that allegedly took place in the context of, or connection to, the War on Drugs campaign.”

It also noted that criminal charges were only pressed against a limited number, “typically low-level, physical perpetrators”.

President Duterte pushed through his campaign promise to wage a “war on drugs” that has raised controversy. The ICC report noted law enforcers were involved in the deaths of more than 5,000 people that included minors.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet noted the campaign against illegal drugs “is being carried out without due regard for the rule of law, due process and the human rights of people who may be using or selling drugs,” she said during the 44th session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) last June.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra announced last June the creation of an inter-agency panel that will reinvestigate more than 5,000 deaths in police drug war operations, a matter which Bersouda saidher office will be watching closely.

Human rights groups have pegged the war on drugs have killed as many as 27,000 people as of 2019.

The ICC preliminary investigation prompted the Philippine government to officially withdraw from the ICC, the second country to do so. But under ICC rules, the withdrawal will formally take effect 12 months after its filing, thus the probe pushed on.

‘Ray of hope’

Lawyer Edre Olalia, President of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), said that the prosecutor’s findings “is a very considerable development that has far reaching repercussions.”

“Our government and law enforcers must take this seriously and get the message loud and clear… While we are still not out of the woods, finally rays of hope have peeked out of the pitch-dark clouds of impunity. We hope real and effective redress can be achieved in time,” Olalia added.

Human rights group Karapatan welcomed the ICC’s report saying, “The day of reckoning is coming nearer for Duterte’s reign of terror.”

Rights advocates said that extrajudicial killings and other rights violations have intensified even under the COVID-19 pandemic, this time targeting government’s critics such as activists, journalists and progressive opposition legislators. (davaotoday.com)

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